Pakistani Academia's Growing Interest in Decolonizing Minds

There is increasing recognition in Pakistan and other nations colonized in the past by the West of the need to "decolonize knowledge" and to deal with the entrenched "injustices inherited" from colonial masters. Language is being recognized as a "library of ideas" essential for creation and transmission of knowledge in former colonies.

Habib University Conference:

Habib University, Pakistan's leading liberal arts institution of higher learning, is leading the way forward with "Postcolonial Higher Education Conference (PHEC)", an annual conference held each year at the university's Karachi campus since 2014. The conference attracts scholars from around the world.



This year’s PHEC's theme was “Inheritance of Injustice” to highlight the results of historical injustices seen today in many facets across the world, from economic and ecological to geo-political, according to report in Newsline Magazine.  The conference featured top global academics from South Asia, Africa, the US and the UK.

The keynote at this year's conference was delivered by Dr. Mwangi wa Githinji professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dr. Githinji discussed how “inherited economic, social, language and ecological structures have transmitted colonial injustice into the present.”

He suggested that “development still is understood in a deficit model based on dualities with the aim to move countries to be more like the ‘modern’ and ‘industrialized’ world” and called for education systems to also break out of their post-colonial inheritance to indigenizing systems in which “language is a library of ideas and telling a story allows us to create our own histories.”

Answering questions at the conference Professor Githinji said “liberal arts and sciences education allows us to become knowledge creators rather than just consumers. Part of this process requires a rethinking of our history, even before colonialization. Telling of a story is the creation of a memory.”

South African scholar Dr. Suren Pillay of the University of the Western Cape who also attended the conference said that the “intellectuals must struggle to decolonize knowledge, by not taking progress and civilization at face value, but by telling more multiple and messy stories that co-constitute the story of the modern state.”

Education to Colonize Minds:

Dr. Edward Said (1935-2003), Palestine-born Columbia University professor and the author of "Orientalism",  described it as the ethnocentric study of non-Europeans by Europeans.  Dr. Said wrote that the Orientalists see the people of Asia, Africa and the Middle East as “gullible” and “devoid of energy and initiative.” European colonization led to the decline and destruction of the prosperity of every nation they ruled. India is a prime example of it. India was the world's largest economy producing over a quarter of the world's GDP when the British arrived. At the end of the British Raj, India's contribution was reduced to less than 2% of the world GDP.

In his "Prison Notebooks", Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist theorist and politician, says that a class can exercise its power not merely by the use of force but by an institutionalized system of moral and intellectual leadership that promotes certain ideas and beliefs favorable to it.  For Gramsci "cultural hegemony" is maintained through the consent of the dominated class which assures the intellectual and material supremacy of the dominant class.

In "Masks of Conquest", author Gauri Viswanathan says that the British curriculum was introduced in India to "mask" the economic exploitation of the colonized. Its main purpose was to colonize the minds of the natives to sustain colonial rule.

Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book "Decolonizing the Mind" talks about the "culture of apemanship and parrotry" among the natives trained by their colonial masters to maintain control of their former colonies in Africa. He argues that "the freedom for western finance capital and for the vast transnational monopolies under its umbrella to continue stealing from the countries and people of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Polynesia is today protected by conventional and nuclear weapons".

Cambridge Curriculum in Pakistan:

The colonial discourse of the superiority of English language and western education continues with a system of elite schools that uses Cambridge curriculum in Pakistan.

Over 270,000 Pakistani students from elite schools participated in Cambridge O-level and A-level International (CIE) exams in 2016, an increase of seven per cent over the prior year.

Cambridge IGCSE exams is also growing in popularity in Pakistan, with enrollment increasing by 16% from 10,364 in 2014-15 to 12,019 in 2015-16. Globally there has been 10% growth in entries across all Cambridge qualifications in 2016, including 11% growth in entries for Cambridge International A Levels and 8 per cent for Cambridge IGCSE, according to Express Tribune newspaper.

The United Kingdom remains the top source of international education for Pakistanis.  46,640 students, the largest number of Pakistani students receiving international education anywhere, are doing so at Pakistani universities in joint degree programs established with British universities, according to UK Council for International Student Affairs.

At the higher education level, the number of students enrolled in British-Pakistani joint degree programs in Pakistan (46,640) makes it the fourth largest effort behind Malaysia (78,850), China (64,560) and Singapore (49,970).

Teach Critical Thinking:

Pakistani educators and policy makers need to see the western colonial influences and their detrimental effects on the minds of youngsters. They need to promote liberal arts education and to do serious research to create knowledge. They need to improve learning by helping students learn to think for themselves critically. Such reforms will require students to ask more questions and to find answers for themselves through their own research rather than taking the words of their textbook authors and teachers as the ultimate truth.

Summary: 

There is increasing recognition in Pakistan and other nations colonized in the past by the West of the need to "decolonize knowledge" and to deal with the entrenched "injustices inherited" from the colonial masters.  Part of this post-colonial conversation is to stop being uncritical consumers of knowledge and narratives produced by the West and to encourage creation of local knowledge in the former colonies. This is a positive welcome trend toward real decolonization in Asia and Africa that I hope gathers serious momentum with more liberal arts centers of learning like the Karachi-based Habib University in the near future.

Here's an interesting discussion of the legacy of the British Raj in India as seen by writer-diplomat Shashi Tharoor:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN2Owcwq6_M




Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Day: Freeing the Colonized Minds

Alam vs Hoodbhoy

Inquiry Based Learning

Dr. Ata ur Rehman Defends Higher Education Reform

Pakistan's Rising College Enrollment Rates

Pakistan Beat BRICs in Highly Cited Research Papers

Launch of "Eating Grass: Pakistan's Nuclear Program"

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan

Impact of Industrial Revolution

Hindutva: Legacy of British Raj


Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Western philosophy is racist

Academic philosophy in ‘the West’ ignores and disdains the thought traditions of China, India and Africa. This must change

https://aeon.co/essays/why-the-western-philosophical-canon-is-xenophobic-and-racist

ainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. I know I am levelling a serious charge. But how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?
Western philosophy used to be more open-minded and cosmopolitan. The first major translation into a European language of the Analects, the saying of Confucius (551-479 BCE), was done by Jesuits, who had extensive exposure to the Aristotelian tradition as part of their rigorous training. They titled their translation Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, or Confucius, the Chinese Philosopher (1687).
One of the major Western philosophers who read with fascination Jesuit accounts of Chinese philosophy was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). He was stunned by the apparent correspondence between binary arithmetic (which he invented, and which became the mathematical basis for all computers) and the I Ching, or Book of Changes, the Chinese classic that symbolically represents the structure of the Universe via sets of broken and unbroken lines, essentially 0s and 1s. (In the 20th century, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was so impressed with the I Ching that he wrote a philosophical foreword to a translation of it.) Leibniz also said that, while the West has the advantage of having received Christian revelation, and is superior to China in the natural sciences, ‘certainly they surpass us (though it is almost shameful to confess this) in practical philosophy, that is, in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and the use of mortals’.
The German philosopher Christian Wolff echoed Leibniz in the title of his public lecture Oratio de Sinarum Philosophia Practica, or Discourse on the Practical Philosophy of the Chinese (1721). Wolff argued that Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion. Because it proposed that ethics can be completely separated from belief in God, the lecture caused a scandal among conservative Christians, who had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled from Prussia. However, his lecture made him a hero of the German Enlightenment, and he immediately obtained a prestigious position elsewhere. In 1730, he delivered a second public lecture, De Rege Philosophante et Philosopho Regnante, or On the Philosopher King and the Ruling Philosopher, which praised the Chinese for consulting ‘philosophers’ such as Confucius and his later follower Mengzi (fourth century BCE) about important matters of state.
Chinese philosophy was also taken very seriously in France. One of the leading reformers at the court of Louis XV was François Quesnay (1694-1774). He praised Chinese governmental institutions and philosophy so lavishly in his work Despotisme de la China (1767) that he became known as ‘the Confucius of Europe’. Quesnay was one of the originators of the concept of laissez-faire economics, and he saw a model for this in the sage-king Shun, who was known for governing by wúwéi (non-interference in natural processes). The connection between the ideology of laissez-faire economics and wúwéi continues to the present day. In his State of the Union address in 1988, the US president Ronald Reagan quoted a line describing wúwéi from the Daodejing, which he interpreted as a warning against government regulation of business. (Well, I didn’t say that every Chinese philosophical idea was a good idea.)
Riaz Haq said…
Don’t Panic, Liberal Arts Majors. The Tech World Wants You.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/books/review/you-can-do-anything-george-anders-liberal-arts-education.html

Surely one day the ability to interface directly with the nanomachinery connected to our brains will render computer science as we know it obsolete. When experts start arguing for its continued relevance, undergraduates choosing a major will begin to realize that the obscure art of manually punching arcane symbols into keyboards is no longer a safe bet. At the present moment, however, it is only liberal arts majors who have to wonder whether all of the articles and books promoting the marketability of their chosen discipline should make them more or less uneasy about the future. Two additions to this growing field have appeared just in time to try to soothe the post-graduation panic that some within the class of 2017 may be experiencing: George Anders’s “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education” and Randall Stross’s “A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees.”

According to both Anders and Stross, the ever-expanding tech sector is now producing career opportunities in fields — project management, recruitment, human relations, branding, data analysis, market research, design, fund-raising and sourcing, to name some — that specifically require the skills taught in the humanities. To thrive in these areas, one must be able to communicate effectively, read subtle social and emotional cues, make persuasive arguments, adapt quickly to fluid environments, interpret new forms of information while translating them into a compelling narrative and anticipate obstacles and opportunities before they arise. Programs like English or history represent better preparation, the two authors argue, for the demands of the newly emerging “rapport sector” than vocationally oriented disciplines like engineering or finance. Though it does not automatically land one in a particular career, training in the humanities, when pitched correctly, will ultimately lead to gainful and fulfilling employment. Indeed, by the time they reach what Stross terms the “peak earning ages,” 56-60, liberal arts majors earn on average $2,000 more per year than those with pre-professional degrees (if advanced degrees in both categories are included).

While “You Can Do Anything” and “A Practical Education” supply useful talking points in support of the financial viability of studying the liberal arts, they may arouse more fear than hope. Both feature myriad anecdotes of job searches, all with happy endings, but the journey there invariably proves daunting, circuitous and chancy. Moreover, the reality that apparently favors liberal arts majors is precisely what makes the current job market so forbidding: extreme precariousness. Trained to be flexible and adaptable, these students are well equipped, according to Anders, to navigate an unstable job market, where companies, fields and sometimes whole industries rise and fall at a nauseating clip, where automation is rendering once coveted skills redundant and where provisional short-term jobs, freelance assignments, part-time gigs, unpaid internships and self-employment are replacing long-term, full-time salaried positions that include rights and benefits protected by unions. While Anders, a contributing writer at Forbes magazine, clearly wants the best for recent liberal arts graduates, his pep talk often consists of rebranding the treacherous market conditions of the 21st century as part of a thrilling new frontier. Instability can promote “quirky-job-hopping” and greater “autonomy.” Recent liberal arts graduates who find these conditions less than inviting, Anders says, simply need to discover the proper spirit of adventure — the same spirit that led them to their chosen field of study. But somehow it seems unlikely that his analogy to white-water rafting will get them excited to send out yet another batch of cover letters and résumés.
Riaz Haq said…
Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa

https://www.thejournal.org.za/index.php/thejournal/article/view/9/31

Abstract
Since the end of the oppressive and racist apartheid system in 1994, epistemologies and knowledge systems at most South African universities have not considerably changed; they remain rooted in colonial, apartheid and Western worldviews and epistemological traditions. The curriculum remains largely Eurocentric and continues to reinforce white and Western dominance and privilege. This article traces the roots of Eurocentrism and epistemic violence at universities. The author argues that South Africa must tackle and dismantle the epistemic violence and hegemony of Eurocentrism, completely rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curriculum and place South Africa, Southern Africa and Africa at the centre of teaching, learning and research. However, this will not be easy as opposition to change is entrenched in the university structures. The movement to radically transform and decolonise higher education must find ways to hold institutions accountable and maintain the non-violent and intellectual struggle until epistemic violence and Eurocentrism are dismantled.

Introduction
South African students and a small number of progressive academics began a campaign in 2015 to decolonise the curriculum at universities ‘by ending the domination of Western epistemological traditions, histories and figures’ (Molefe 2016:32). In particular, the students have called for the end of domination by ‘white, male, Western, capitalist, heterosexual, European worldviews’ in higher education and incorporation of other South African, African and global ‘perspectives, experiences [and] epistemologies’ as the central tenets of the curriculum, teaching, learning and research in the country (Shay 2016).

Students have questioned not only the lack of transformation in the higher education sector but also the settlement that ended apartheid more than two decades ago. Jacobs (2016) calls the settlement between the apartheid regime and the African National Congress ‘the series of political, social and economic deals in which the racial inequalities of apartheid and wealth disparities largely remain intact and which benefits whites in general’. While the 1994 settlement has brought political change, it has not done much to tackle poverty and inequality, which is an all-too-common lived experience of the black majority. Thus, the student activists speak about disrupting ‘whiteness’ in society, the economy and at universities. The whiteness they are trying to disrupt has been imposed since colonial times as a ‘symbol of purity’ and has defined ‘what it means to be civilised, modern and human’ (Sardar 2008:xiii). This whiteness is still engaged in daily open and/or subtle racism and marginalisation of black people.

Nwadeyi (2016) argues that ‘colonialism, apartheid and other vehicles for entrenching white supremacy did not only affect political rights or economic freedoms’. They have affected every aspect of life and their effects and legacies are still entrenched in South Africa. Writing about Frantz Fanon’s works in a foreword to the 2008 edition of Black Skins, White Masks, Sardar (2008:xviii) admits that much has changed in the world since Fanon wrote this and other books. However, ‘the underlying structures of oppression and injustice remain the same’. This is particularly true in post-apartheid South Africa. Whereas political freedom was achieved in 1994, many structural imbalances, inequalities and injustices remain stumbling blocks for the emancipation of black South Africans. Institutions of higher learning are one of these stumbling blocks. As Sardar (2008) points out:
Riaz Haq said…
In Pakistan, English fiction is gathering pace in its search for approval and recognition
The number of writers and books is increasingly exponentially.

https://scroll.in/article/871234/in-pakistan-english-fiction-is-gathering-pace-in-its-search-for-approval-and-recognition

Authors of Pakistani origin writing in English are on fire abroad. And in Pakistan, they are igniting a frisson of excitement and minor pyrotechnics among their readership. It is a moment to celebrate. If this reviewer could create awards, say, the Herald’s Best Novels Awards 2017, these would go to Osama Siddique, for his superb, succinct yet vast book Snuffing Out the Moon, and to Sami Shah for Boy of Fire and Earth. With these exceptional novels, the two writers have changed the texture and tone of Pakistani English fiction.

Irrefutable evidence that possession, and being possessed, is the current state of Pakistani English literature can be found in The Djinn Falls in Love, a captivating collection of short stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. Included in this collection are spellbinding and riveting stories by contemporary writers of Pakistani origin such as Sami Shah and Usman T Malik. Transformative? Yes.

Most of the authors getting attention are those who emerged on the international scene and are on their third or fourth novel. Mohsin Hamid with Exit West and Kamila Shamsie with Home Fire made it to the longlist for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, too, was shortlisted for the Booker, in 2007.

Pakistani novelists located in Pakistan and abroad – at first mostly women; now increasingly women and men in equal numbers – have been writing in English for 70 years.
Getting noticed and unnoticed in unequal measure and owning this tongue of the Empire, they have been telling stories that chip away at boundaries and categories within ourselves and between “us” and “them”, the colonised and the coloniser, the post-Empire and the new empires.

The numbers are increasing exponentially. This alone is exhilarating. Over 100 writers have over 150 novels and many anthologies among them. But they have not necessarily written 150 different and good stories which resonate with an audience beyond a small elite group. And this may be because we cannot exorcise our colonial past or rise beyond our vantage points of birth.

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they have a tendency to be the sole spokesperson for Pakistan, speaking to a foreign power in the way it wants to be addressed and, in the process, strangulating and muffling all other voices. The urgency to be the native informant. Why is this so? The answer is complicated. It may boil down to geographical boundaries and political blueprints imposed on us by our colonial masters and the abused nature of our still-colonised society in a country that, to foreign interests, seems nothing more than a potash mine, a petroleum field or a port – the great plantation and its house slaves yearning not to be free.

Colonisation tends to keep on giving long after the colonisers have physically left. Literary careers are made in the nostalgia for it. The writers who are nostalgic about it are labelled as native informants mostly by those who are bitter about their success. These native informants, the accusations go, tend to continue having the out-of-body experience of never being able to be themselves. They can only see themselves through eyes that are not their own — always imagining and narrating reality in a way that might be pleasing to the colonial abuser. They pick up subjects that are pleasing to the abuser. They create characters that fit the characterisations created by the abuser. They stick to the dominant power’s narrative.

The novels that get praise abroad, and subsequently in Pakistan, promote narratives written in the tradition of taking cues from elsewhere and seeing Pakistan from a foreigner’s eyes. Even the websites for the authors published abroad do not mention reviews and interviews published in Pakistani magazines or newspapers.
Riaz Haq said…
Education In Pakistan And The Need For Dynamic Organic Curriculum

https://academiamag.com/education-pakistan-dynamic-organic-curriculum/

Education is the wholistic development of an individual. Intellectual, moral and emotional knowledge are crucial to achieve the end wherein a pupil becomes a socially responsible, compassionate and functional member of a society. Education is more than what any school can provide to a child, and the learning does not, cannot and should not stop once a child steps out school boundaries.

In most parts of the world, parents are encouraged to become every bit a part of a child’s educational journey and become key stakeholders in turning children into the finest specimens of humanity. But unfortunately in Pakistan, a peculiar and worrying trend is emerging; keeping curriculum a secret from the parents/families.

School teachers are handed out curriculum guidelines as set by various international examination boards, however, parents are increasingly not being allowed to review the syllabus under the pretext that sharing the curriculum feeds into the parental competition, causes unnecessary stress to the students as they are enrolled in extra tuition to get ahead and reduces the effectiveness of the teachers at school.

Not only are all these excuses merely trying to treat the symptoms, they also take away the ability of providing a more all-round learning experience as children cannot be engaged at home for reinforcement of any concepts that are under discussion at the school. The curriculum, resources, reference books, activities are now seen as the competitive advantage one school might have over another, leading to a very unhealthy trend and a race that neither serves the interests of students nor parents.

Monotony Rules The Roost
Besides the increasingly safeguarding and concealment of these ‘strategic’ resources, the curriculum guidelines laid out are itself confusing and have unrealistic expectations of school managements. Someone who has never met the teachers or a class of students, can hardly gauge the calibre of either; but still gets to decide how long each topic should take and how soon a class – of 2nd graders for example – should master the art of multiplying. At the same time, the guidelines conclude that the concept of division is beyond the cognitive capacity of a 7 year old.


The curriculum followed by most schools do not take into account the varying capabilities and learning curves of individual children. There is no regard for differing interests and inclinations. Students remain spectators that have no control over the flow of the game. Though the “One Size Fits All” approach serves administrative objectives of running a school, it in no way caters to individualized needs, requirements and progress of students.

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Solution: Dynamic Organic Curriculum
The solution to this problem of our stagnant and didactic curriculum approach is two-pronged. First, the power to create, curate and adapt the curriculum needs to be shifted to the people who are closest to students and have a deep understanding of their learning styles, capabilities and cognitive boundaries. These include teachers, principals, and families [whoever is in a position to contribute owing to their own expertise and passion], and last but not the least, students themselves.

The other part of the solution is ensuring that the curriculum itself is flexible and can be personalised to the needs of each student. Individually. The one-size-fits all approach to education is now losing ground. We need to give way to students and allow them to author their own learning, at their own pace and according to their own interests. Apart from the core skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, the children need to be empowered with the ability to learn how they want to, and where they want to and when they want to.

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